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#1 Debt Mistake

When I meet people at events, I often ask them: “What is your top financial goal for the year?”

By far, the most common response is, “I want to reduce or eliminate debt!”

This is an incredible goal. Reducing or eliminating debt helps create financial margin and reduce stress. However, many people make the mistake of skipping straight to debt reduction without first saving money in an emergency fund. This is a HUGE MISTAKE.

You see, I made this mistake for a long time. I wanted to kill debt. I was frustrated and angry and wanted to say goodbye to my long-time friend, Sallie Mae Student Loans, the bank, credit card companies, and stores. I wanted the debt to be G-O-N-E. So I ran right past the more important step – saving money.

Take a minute to think about it. If you do not save but only focus on attacking your debt with any and all extra money (tax refunds, bonuses, money freed up by budgeting better, etc), you will begin to see your debt go down.

Then your car will break down.

How will you pay for it? Since you skipped the “save money” step, you will have to use credit to pay for it. This becomes an extremely disappointing moment. It causes many people to give up on debt freedom and say, “I just can’t seem to get ahead.”

Choose to save money first. I recommend starting with at least one month of expenses. Once all of the non-house, non-business debt is gone, build the savings to 3 months of expenses.

Yes, this slows down the debt pay-off. Yes, it’s frustrating to focus on savings when you have debt (especially when you include interest). BUT if you save first, you will secure your ability to stop acquiring new debt, which is the biggest step you can make towards true financial freedom.

Interested in learning more about saving, eliminating debt, and budgeting? Check out my book I Was Broke. Now I’m Not.

Savings Accounts With Online Banks – Why You Should Consider Using One

To be very clear, I am talking about banks that exist almost exclusively “online” – not banks that have a website.

Some great examples of these banks include:

  1. Capital One 360 Savings Account
  2. Discover Bank Savings Account
  3. Ally Bank Savings Account

I have used these type of banks for many years, and I love them!

5 Reasons I Love My Savings Accounts with Online Banks

  1. High Interest  These banks pay interest equivalent to a 30-month CD, but none of the CD restrictions exist (early withdrawal penalty, terms, etc.) As of this writing, these accounts are paying interest between 0.75% and 0.90%. That’s WAY BETTER than the 0.01% that most local banks are paying on simple savings accounts!
  2. No Minimum Balance  While most of these banks require a small minimum amount to open an account, they do not have a minimum balance requirement going forward.
  3. Sub-Accounts  These banks allow you to create “named accounts” within the main account so you can better track your savings for various items. For instance, I have sub-accounts named: “Business Operating Reserves”, “Christmas”, “Vacation”, “Property Taxes”, “Life Insurance”, and “Emergency Fund”  When I log in to my account, I can instantly see how much I have saved for each of these items.
  4. Customer Service  I’ve experienced nothing but the best service from my online banks. They have to, really. After all, they don’t have local branches so the only way they can attract and retain customers is by serving each customer extremely well.
  5. No Fees  I’ve never been charged a fee by my online bank. Not once.
  6. BONUS  Automatic savings – you can create automatic transactions that draft money from your regular bill paying bank account on a frequency that works best for you. I have established automatic monthly drafts so I don’t have to “feel like it” to ensure I save money each month!

I encourage you to click on the links for each of the banks, choose the one that suits you best, and get your savings automated!


Save Money BEFORE Attacking Debt

When we launched our “How To Have The Best Financial Year Of Your Life In 2014″ live on-line event this year, I asked the question: “What is your top financial goal for 2014?”

The top response BY FAR was “I want to reduce/eliminate debt.”

It is a noble goal that will help create financial margin and reduce stress. However, many people make the mistake of skipping straight to debt reduction without first saving some money in an emergency fund.

This is a big mistake.

You see, we want to kill debt. We’re frustrated and angry and want to say goodbye to our long-time friend, Sallie Mae Student Loans, the banks, credit card companies, and stores. We want the debt to be G-O-N-E!

And we run right past a more important step – saving money.

Think about it. If you do not save money and begin to attack your debt with any and all extra money such as tax refunds, bonuses, and money freed up by better budgeting, you will begin to see your debt go down.

Then your car will break down.

How will you pay for it? Since you skipped the “saving money” step, you will have to use credit to pay for it.

This is demoralizing, and it causes many people to give up on their debt freedom march saying, “I just can’t seem to get ahead.”

Choose to save money first. I recommend $2,500 as a good start. Once all of the non-house, non-business debt is gone, build the savings to 3 months of expenses.

I’ll finish by sharing this: I’ve yet to meet anyone who told me, “We’ve just saved too much money. I regret it.”

Never. Met. That. Person.

How Much Interest Is Your Savings Account Paying?

As I describe in my book Oxen, you begin truly winning with money when your “money makes money for you.”

With that said, here’s a great question to ask yourself: “How much interest is my bank paying me for the money in my savings account?”

Chances are high that the number is 0.01%. In fact, I checked several big banks as I wrote this post and here’s what I found for their basic savings accounts:

  • Bank of America – 0.01%
  • Wells Fargo – 0.01%
  • Bank of the West – 0.03%

This is why I hold all of my business and personal savings in ON-LINE BANKS. This is not a “bank with website access.” They are banks that exist almost exclusively on-line. Since they do not have physical buildings, they have to do extraordinary things to attract customers. I’ve discovered they do two key things very well:

  1. No fees They’ve virtually eliminated fees – low balance fees, etc.
  2. Way better INTEREST! They are currently paying around 0.75% on savings (about the same as a 30-month CD, but I don’t lose the liquidity of my money!)

Since 2007, I have held all of my savings and operating reserves with Capital One 360.

I encourage you to do 2 things with this information:

  1. Find out how much interest your bank is currently paying on your savings.
  2. Check out the on-line banks we recommend HERE.


Information accurate as of 2/4/2014.

Save, Invest, or Pay Off Debt?

Suppose you happened upon a substantial amount of money all at one time. For discussion purposes, let’s say it was $10,000.

What would you do with this money? There are really five options available to you:

  1. Spend it
  2. Give it away
  3. Put it into savings
  4. Pay off debt
  5. Invest it

Most people will be faced with this type of situation at least once in their life. Here are some thoughts to consider with each option.

1. Spend it

This would certainly be a fun option! The money could be used to make much-needed home repairs, purchase a vehicle, or take a vacation.

2. Give it away

Being able to give $10,000 away is an incredible option! Consider the impact you could make on the world around you by giving money to support causes you really believe in.

3. Put it into savings

Financial margin provides something I call “financial confidence.” When I first achieved financial margin, it was as if scales literally fell from my eyes. I was able to “see” opportunities like never before.

4. Pay off debt

Debt increases a person’s operating costs and requires more income. If the debt is associated with a no-value or declining value item, it is literally the equivalent of “robbing yourself.”

5. Invest it

What if you could use the $10,000 to start a business that will produce $4,000 of income each year for the next 40 years? Consider the investments you might be able to make – it could literally change your life!

Your thoughts are appreciated. What would YOU do?

Saving For Known Upcoming Non-Monthly Expenses

Everyone must save for three things: (1) Emergencies, (2) Known Upcoming Non-Monthly Expenses, and (3) Dreams

Of these three, it seems like saving for #2 – Known Upcoming Non-Monthly Expenses is the most difficult and creates the most issues with budgeting.

Here’s why Known Upcoming Non-Monthly Expenses create severe budgeting difficulty:

  1. They are non-monthly  Because of this, we tend to forget about them until they show up
  2. They are usually larger expenses  Property taxes, insurance premiums, Christmas, vacation, car maintenance and repairs, and insurance deductibles usually have larger price tags than typical monthly expenses
  3. We don’t save for the expenses monthly  We wait until the bill arrives and then we are forced to scramble in an attempt to pay for it

This is why I call these type of expenses “Budget Crushing Expenses.” You can avoid this stress entirely by creating a Known Upcoming Expenses saving plan!

Here’s a step-by-step way for you to eliminate “Budget Crushing Expenses” from your life:

  1. Download our free “Known Upcoming Expenses Calculator” tool HERE.
  2. Enter all your “Known Upcoming Expenses” into the tool – include the annual expense of each line item.
  3. Enter your “# of Pay Periods Per Year” into the tool – enter “12” if paid monthly, “26” if paid every 2 weeks, “52” if paid weekly, and “24” if paid twice each month.
  4. You have now calculated the amount you need to save out of each paycheck to ensure all of your Known Upcoming Non-Monthly Expenses are covered.
  5. BONUS STEP: Set up an on-line savings account (I use Capital One 360 – formerly known as ING Direct) and make your savings automatic. In other words, you can set up automated transfers to your on-line savings account. This allows you to “set it and forget it” and KNOW you’re major known upcoming non-monthly expenses are covered!

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I am paid monthly. I have set up a monthly transfer to happen on the 6th day of the month from my regular bill-paying bank account to my Capital One 360 account. It may not be the most exciting thing in life, but it is INCREDIBLE to know I have eliminated “budget crushing expenses” from my life!

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10 Summer Fun Ideas That Won’t Break The Bank

Summer is an incredible time to gear down, rest, and renew relationships.

It is also a time that could break the bank if one is not very careful. To help you have an incredible summer without destroying the budget, we put together a list of fun ideas for you:

10 Summer Fun Ideas That Won’t Break The Bank

  1. Go camping in a tent  Or as one of my friends calls it: “Pretend to be homeless” :) I love tent camping!
  2. Take a vacation with family or friends and SHARE the cabin/house/condo/etc.  My bride and I have done this many times. It cuts lodging costs by half (or more) and allows us to hang out with our friends/family even more!
  3. Take up a hobby that doesn’t cost a lot. My friends play basketball once a week. I run with my daughter. Tennis costs next to nothing. Corn hole. Put on an art contest and invite your children and their friends to participate. Hike trails at a state park. Go swimming at a local park.
  4. Start a small business with your children. Ask them for their ideas. Choose one while teaching them the concept of value (what customers are willing to pay money for) and marketing/sales (no one will buy if they don’t know it exists). Sell the product/service on-line using a basic website (can set up through a basic free blogging service) and PayPal.
  5. Attend a play at a local community theater. If you volunteer to serve at several of their events, you can probably attend a show for FREE!
  6. Volunteer at a local food pantry or homeless shelter. This really costs nothing, and it allows you to serve those who are struggling!
  7. Go to yard sales, buy cool stuff, and sell on-line.  My children love discovering “treasures” on Fridays and Saturdays.
  8. Go fishing at a local pond or lake.  When I see my little son experience the thrill of catching a fish, touching it, and then tossing it back in the water – it is AWESOME! My daughter loves fishing too. And my bride catches some sun.
  9. Produce a home movie using a script written by your children. iPhones have HD video capability. Many iPads and nearly every MAC has iMovie which allows you to edit and produce the show. This really fosters creativity!
  10. Launch five helium balloons with your name and address and a note.  Ask the discoverer of the grounded balloon to write you back and tell you about where and how they found the balloon! You never know when you will hear back and from how far!

Any ideas you would add to the list?

TV Fast – No Netflix – No Directv

This summer, my bride and I have decided to be crazy and shut off our TV.

Beginning Saturday, we paused Directv for two straight months. Beginning today, Netflix will be paused for two straight months.

While this will certainly help out the budget, we made this decision because of a much more important commodity: “time”

More specifically: “focused, uninterrupted, and undistracted time with the family”

I’ll spend my 15 minutes every day to check my 78 web sites using the Internet, of course.

Besides, baseball is boring and always equals a nap.

Have you ever done something like this? How did it go?

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On-Line Banks – Why I Use Them For My Savings Accounts

If you have ever heard me speak or teach about saving money, then you have undoubtedly been introduced to on-line banks. I’m not talking about banks that have websites but about banks that have little to zero physical “bricks & mortar” locations.

I’m talking about banks like Capital One 360 (formerly ING Direct) and Ally Bank (built on the base of GMAC).

Here’s why I use on-line banks (over a local bank) for my savings accounts:

  1. Better interest rate On-line banks pay interest that is generally 5 to 8 times more than a local bank savings account (somewhere near that of a 2 to 3 year CD) – but it doesn’t affect the liquidity of my money
  2. Sub-Accounts If you have a regular savings account, all you can see is a total amount of the money the account currently contains. With on-line banks, you can create something called “buckets” or “sub-accounts” to give every dollar a designated name! This means you can create sub-accounts like “Christmas”, “Emergency Savings”, “Vacation”, “Life Insurance”, etc. See the example screen shot below from my Capital One 360 account. You can click the image to see a larger version. This makes it so much better!
  3. Automatic SavingsYou can establish automatic transfers from another existing bank account. In the example I show below, I have set up automatic transfers for my emergency fund, YMCA annual membership, House taxes and insurance, Christmas, and life insurance premiums. It is a “set it and forget it” approach to savings that is awesome!
  4. Customer Service  Because these banks only have an on-line presence, they have to be INCREDIBLE at customer service, or people would not even know about them. Every interaction I have had with my on-line banks has been an incredibly positive experience.
  5. FDIC-insured  These banks are insured by the FDIC – just like any other bank. That means your deposits are protected. I like that!
  6. No fees  There are no fees unless you exceed the monthly allowable transactions (or something extraordinary like that)
  7. No MINIMUM balance  This makes it perfect for any and every saver.

I encourage you to check them out: Capital One 360  and Ally Bank.

Set a savings goal. Then establish an automatic savings plan to help you accomplish it!

Do you use any of these banks? What do you like about them most?


Are You EATING Your Financial Freedom?

Most people struggle to save money. There are so many urgent and important items that compete for every single dollar in our wallet.

The kids are constantly growing out of their clothes, something in the house is continually breaking down, and the car seems to have a ravenous appetite for money. These are all items that consume our money, but the largest competitor for savings in most people’s household is FOOD. In fact, when someone completes their first-ever budget, they begin to review their actual spending patterns and nearly always come to the same conclusion that they’ve been spending way to much on food. They summarize their discovery by stating something like:

“I’ve found out where my savings account is – I’ve been eating it!”

I discovered this truth when I did my first budget way back in July 2003! The realization is as stark today as it was then. I was literally eating my savings (and my future)!

There are many ways to reduce your food costs (and I would love for you to share your great ideas with us all in the comments!):

  1. Don’t go to the grocery store when you are hungry!
  2. Split a meal with someone else while at a restaurant.
  3. Use cash envelopes
  4. Shop the sales at the grocery store!
  5. Use coupons (but buy things you will really use!)
  6. Make dinners from scratch (healthier and brings family together!)
  7. Designate one week as a “We’re eating all our meals using stuff in the pantry this week!” (you will quite possibly have the most interesting meals you’ve ever had!)

Readers: What additional ideas would you share? Click HERE to share in the comments!

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I have been using since 2010 (November 8, 2010 to be exact), and it has given me back $283.42 of my on-line purchases.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Create an account at
  2. When you are going to shop on-line, visit the website and in the search window at the top of the page, type in the on-line retailer you are going to be shopping with (like,,, etc.)
  3. It will generate a link for you to click on to begin shopping.
  4. Shop on-line (using promo codes from sites like, of course :) )
  5. That is all there is to it!!!

Here’s how this gets you money back:

  1. Stores pay commissions to websites for generating traffic to their on-line site
  2. chooses to share some of that revenue with you and me!
  3. When you click on the link provided by, it “sets a cookie” on your computer that communicates to the on-line retailer that generated traffic for them.
  4. When you purchase something, the retailer pays a commission to
  5. pays you a portion of that commission!

Awesome! SIGN UP here and start getting some of your hard-earned money back!

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5 Things You Can Do To Save Big-Time Money In 2013

Here are 5 things you can do to save big-time money in 2013:

  1. Have high interest credit card debt? Roll over the balance to a 0% balance transfer credit card. It takes five minutes or less and can change the interest on your credit card debt for a year or longer! Here is my list of great 0% Balance Transfer Credit Card Offers.
  2. Haven’t checked your auto and homeowner’s/renter’s insurance rates lately? Insurance companies tend to creep their rates up over time. Many times you can end up with better insurance for way less than you are paying right now! I like to use an on-line quote site to get quotes. I type in my information one time, and all of the insurance companies start competing for my business! That means lower prices, and I like that!
  3. Have you checked your home mortgage interest rate lately?Rates have fallen to record lows. Chances are pretty good that a simple refinance of your house would allow you to cut 5 to 10 years off of your mortgage while still paying the same payment!
  4. Cut the cable/satellite service for one year. I have done this before, and we discovered our family had a LOT more time to spend together doing something other than staring at the TV. It also helped us save a lot of money!
  5. Establish a savings goal and set up an automatic draft to a bank account that is not immediately accessible. I really like Capital One 360. It is where I keep my savings that I want to ensure I keep my hands off of!

Hope this list helps you have the most prosperous year ever!

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Budgeting And Saving Tips

Looking for ways to save money? Here are a few that can help!

  • has a lot of great coupons that you can print out
  • has a lot of great information on deals that are being found at various stores
  • Buy off-brand items.  Yes, some will taste like sawdust, but others are identical to the name brand.  If you have an ALDI grocery store in your area, it is worth the drive to purchase groceries there.  We save at least $50 a month by buying our essentials there – milk, bread, canned foods, eggs, etc. As a side note, their eggs can be somewhat non-uniform – I get double-yolk eggs, oblong eggs, and wobbly eggs. It is really interesting.
  • Skip the grocery store for one week. Put together meals from stuff that is in the cupboards and freezer! You will enjoy some concoctions you have not had in awhile (or never), AND you will be able to save a week’s worth of grocery money to put toward your emergency fund!
  • Have the kids mow the lawn and maintain landscaping instead of paying someone else to do it. Pay your kids and teach them how to save, give, and spend their money!  Can you spell, “LEARNING OPPORTUNITY?”
  • Cut your kid’s hair. This will save many families $20 – $40 per month!
  • Visit consignment stores, Goodwill, or Salvation Army Thrift Stores. You can find some great deals on clothing!
  • Shop your insurance for quotes (US Insurance Online). Get at least three quotes and obtain one of them from an independent insurance agent. You may be able to save $100 – $500/year on your insurance!
  • Take a low-budget vacation instead of a $3,000 one. Using creative options, you will discover just as much fun, and you may be able to save $2,000 – $2,500 which can then be used for debt reduction, emergency fund, or retirement fund!
  • Wait one day before making a major purchase decision. This will really help you to avoid “impulse” purchases like a new car, a pricey vacation, a new plasma TV, etc.
  • Eliminate the home telephone. So many people have cell phones that the home phone has become virtually obsolete. For basic home telephone service you will pay $25/month, and it will not come with basic features of a cell phone such as free long distance, caller-id, call waiting, voice mail, camera, text messaging, games, etc. If you need a basic phone for emergencies, I like the MagicJack.
  • Get rid of the movie channels on cable.

I would love to hear more ideas on how you can save money!

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In school, if you did not pay attention in class and did not study the subject matter, you would receive an undesirable letter grade.  It would be the dreaded one-legged “A” – also known as a big ole “F”.

I don’t know what would have happened in your family, but if would have ever brought home a “F” on my report card, I am pretty sure that I would have become the first person who achieved near-earth orbit via an explosion from my parents.

This is an example of near-instantaneous feedback.  If I choose not to study, it would take no more than a few months later to receive the dreaded “F” and ultimate accountability with my parents.

It is NO DIFFERENT with your finances!  You might think that you are getting away without studying the subject.  You might have convinced yourself that you do not really need to take time to plan your finances.  You could even believe that you are doing well enough without learning more about finances.

I will tell you that you are dead wrong.

If you do not learn about the subject of your personal finances, you WILL have accountability.

It will come in the form of:

  • Not being able to pay for your children’s wedding
  • Not being able to pay for your children’s college
  • Not being able to retire
  • Not being able to take that vacation that the rest of your friends/family are taking because you are broke
  • Daily FINANCIAL STRESS that just will not go away
  • Questions from your children on why you and your spouse are always arguing about money
  • Having to work tons of overtime just to pay the bills
  • Having to take a second job just to pay the bills
  • Not being able to be a stay-at-home mother because bills have forced you into the workplace
  • Not being able to start that business you always wanted to start
  • Not being able to realize a lifelong dream to travel around the world

I do not know if any of these have hit home with you, but I made a decision long ago that I would NOT allow money to dictate what I do and do not do.  I will take the money that I have and tell every single George Washington where to go.  I will ensure that quite a number of George’s are given away and that large quantities are saved BEFORE I start spending them on anything else.

My PRIORITY is to get an “A” on my finances.  The only way I will accomplish this is to continue learning and applying what I learn to my finances.

Every. Single. Day.

Looking for financial accountability?  The I Was Broke. Now I’m Not. Group Study is the perfect tool to learn about winning with money in a setting where accountability is created.  Click HERE to get your group started or learn more.

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158 Days Until Christmas

A friendly reminder from your corner personal finance website,

As of today, July 20, 2012, there are 158 days until Christmas.

Have you started saving?

More specifically, have you started saving for the following?

  • Presents
  • Christmas travel
  • Christmas Cards
  • Postage
  • Decorations
  • Giving to the less fortunate

Even better, have you begun shopping for or making the presents you will be giving away?

I know that I obtain much better deals when I am not under time pressure.

Jenn and I save for Christmas every single month because it is a Known, Upcoming Expense.  We also save for other Known, Upcoming Expenses like vacation, annual insurance premiums, etc.  We used the Known, Upcoming Expense Calculator to determine how much we should save each month/pay period.  You can too –HERE.

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